The House We Thought We Possessed

Catherine Lanser
6 min readAug 22, 2021

The metal inside the old peanut butter and mayonnaise jars weighed heavily in my arms as I carried them up from my dad’s basement workshop. Some of the hardware in the jar was shiny and straight, catching the light sharply, others were rounded and softer in color, dull browns, and greenish golds that absorbed the light. The nails, screws, bolts, washers, and other pieces had been pulled from constructed items and cleaned up at the end of a job, swept into these jars, whether bent or straight, where they would wait for the next project.

We had descended upon our childhood home to clean up what was left of my dad’s things, nine years after his death. I was there with my eight siblings and their families. The house was now our mother’s, transitioning over time by the names of the people who lived there and whose things sat on its shelves.

It had once been our home. Though we paid nothing for it, we felt as if we possessed it. We were excited to say to a friend, “Would you like to sleepover at my house?”

Later, after we had spent enough time away from it, at dormitories and apartments we rented with money we scraped together or borrowed, it became our parents’ house. Then we’d pull ourselves away from our homes for a time, telling our friends, “I’m going home to my parents’ house for the holidays.”

When my dad passed away after a disabling stroke, the house became my mother’s alone. When we asked her what she wanted for Christmas, she said she wanted us all to come home and help her clean out the house. We asked each other, “Are you going to Mom’s house this weekend to help her clean out Dad’s stuff?”

We called it a “Betty Day” and the idea was to focus on the recesses of the house — the root cellar, the shed, and the workshop, the places where my dad had kept his things and that she hadn’t had the heart to touch since he died.

My mom and sister had cleaned out my dad’s closets the week after he died and it felt like it was happening too fast. I had taken a turtleneck and a sweatshirt, thinking it might bring him back. But I felt no real consolation from the items and took them to Goodwill not long after.

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Catherine Lanser

Narrative nonfiction and memoir. Querying my memoir about my family, told through the lens of brain tumor.